5 Fascinating Facts About Carroll Shelby
Published: February 7, 2022

As if being the namesake of one of the coolest cars in American history, the Shelby Mustang, wasn’t enough, Carroll Shelby lived a colorful life both on and off the racecourse. Keep reading to learn five interesting facts about this American icon. 


Did you know Carroll Shelby…


#1 Carroll Shelby Loved Chili 

And not just “enjoyed a nice bowl of chili on a cold winters’ day”- no, Carroll Shelby LOVED chili. He was a founding member of the world’s first Championship Chili Cook Off in Terlingua, Texas in 1967. A few years later at that very same event, he launched his “Original Texas Brand Chili Mix.” His secret blend of herbs and spices promised to “shake the meanness out of the most ornery, leather-mouthed chili-head that was ever born.”

It must have been good stuff, because in 1986, Kraft bought Shelby’s Chili Company.


#2 He Had a Heart Transplant

…And a kidney transplant.

In May 1960, Shelby was diagnosed with angina pectoralis, a hereditary cardiac condition, which causes reduced blood flow to the heart, and ultimately caused Shelby’s early retirement from racing in 1961. He lived with this condition for about 30 years, receiving a new heart in June 1990. The kidney came courtesy of his son Michael in 1996. 

Understanding the stress a person and their families are under while waiting for an organ transplant, Shelby established the Carroll Shelby Children’s Foundation in 1991 to help children in similar situations as he once was. The organization still exists today as the Carroll Shelby Foundation, expanding its mission to support organizations that provide medical assistance, funding of scholarships and programs related to automotive education. 


#3 He Could Also Fly Planes 

He didn’t limit his driving abilities to the ground. Shelby joined the Army shortly after graduating high school. He never entered combat during World War II, as it was a common practice to keep the best pilots behind to train others.

His favorite aircraft was naturally the B-26 because it was faster than any plane the Germans, Japanese or Italians were producing or flying. It wasn’t always serious business though.

Shelby keeps in touch with his fiancé, Jeanne Fields, by dropping love letters onto her family’s farm. They married shortly thereafter in 1943. 


#4 His First Business Venture Wasn’t Automobiles 

Well, not personal automobiles. After getting married and the war ending in 1945, Shelby and his new bride returned to Dallas where he started a dump truck business.

Shortly thereafter, he goes into business on a farm raising chickens. His first crop of chickens earned him a $5,000 profit (about $77,445 in today’s money), but he lost his second crop completely due to disease and went bankrupt as a result. 


#5 Traveled All Over the World 

Sure, Carroll Shelby traveled all over the world racing cars, competing in Daytona, Mexico and of course in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France.

But during his early “retirement” years, he really loved traveling to Africa, where he would spend about nine months every year. He loved the landscape and animals that the continent had to offer.

Back at home on his ranch in Pittsburg, Texas, he also raised horses, Kobe beef cattle and a slew of other animals. 


Learn More About Carroll Shelby at the International Motorsports Hall of Fame 

Carroll Shelby was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1991. We’re proud to have a piece of Shelby Cobra history, the plug for a “fat man Cobra replica.”

Come see us seven days a week in Talladega, Alabama, where we have three exhibition halls and the McCaig-Wellborn Motorsports Research Library, which may have the most comprehensive collection of motorsports information in the world. Check us out online or give us a call today at 256-362-5002. 

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